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Fruits Of Commerce: The Bountiful Depictions of Joseph Bruno Moran

In Abel Dykes Ltd publishers, Alexander Turnbull Library collection, Auckland Art Gallery collection, Auckland Star newspaper, Bank's Box Company, Brett Printing and Publishing Company Ltd, Brown Barrett, Bushell's coffee and tea, Champion Flour, Charles Haines agency, Clark & Matheson map publishers, commercial artist, Dominion Mark Fruit, Frank Duncan & Co Ltd, graphic designer, Household Necessity Company, Johnstons Ltd tea, Joseph Bruno Moran, N.Z. Fruitgrowers' Federation Ltd, Northern Roller Mills (NRM), NZ Herald newspaper, Palmerston Buildings, publishers, Roma tea, Smith & Caughey department store, Wilson & Horton publshers on February 22, 2013 at 10.46

Dominion Mark Fruit Book 1934 (NZ) EDIT

The front cover of the Dominion Mark recipe book, published 1934. A beautiful design attributed to Moran, and refers to the series of greengrocers’ posters in the back, but no specific mention of one that links back to any of his known work.  

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Generally the artist does not matter a great deal in the scheme of the finished product, and stays forever in the background – never to get any attention or acknowledgement for their sometimes spectacular work. Having spent nearly fifteen years in that commercial art realm myself I certainly understand this aspect.

dominion mark  fruit - health fruit poster diet - Probably by Joseph Bruno  Moraalexander turnbull image and pictorial

Poster for greengrocers commissioned by Dominion Mark, c. 1920s-1930s, watercolour, pencil and pen. Alexander Turnbull Library Manuscripts and Pictorial collection, Reference Number: Eph-F-MORAN-01.

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I also  certainly know that the commercial  artist  often has more input than we are aware of; well – that’s the point which is confirmed when talking to commercial artists of yore – back in the day when roles like the high-faluting  “art director”,  and even “copy writer”, were terms that had not yet been created or at least were far and few between – the artist would often encompass an element of all of those jobs.

19th century fabric design gouache on paper French

An example of late 19th century fabric design, in gouache on paper.

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 Although some celebrated artists like Dick Frizzell not only were elevated to more of a creative input role, but went on to garner cred in the fine arts world as well – Joseph Bruno Moran was an artist who embodied the completely authentic role of purely making commercial work , as exemplified in the Alexander Turnbull Library collection as well as that of the Auckland Art Gallery–  of which both institutions share a  collection of  Moran’s most beautiful items.  This is underlined by the fact that you can see the rendering process in a number of them; pencil marks and notes and paint brush strokes just underline the legitimacy.

New Zealand gravenstein unexcelled for dessert health fruit poster Probably by Joseph Bruno  Moradietalexander turnbull image and pictorial

Poster for greengrocers commissioned by Dominion Mark, c. 1920s-1930s, watercolour, pencil and pen. Alexander Turnbull Library Manuscripts and Pictorial collection, Reference Number: Eph-F-MORAN-02.

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Many examples are lush, beckoning  fruits – pears, apples, and citrus – created as crate labels for Dominion Mark, the “brand” of the N.Z. Fruitgrowers’ Federation Ltd,  and they will be familiar to many as they are often held up as some of the best early examples of New Zealand commercial art. I bet the fruit boxes have never looked this good (before or) since.

Champion Flour Ad - Mucle Raiser copy colour corrected

Champion flour poster, gouache, circa 1920s. Auckland Art Gallery collection, Toi o Tāmaki, gift of Mrs K M Marsh, 1976. Accession Number: 1976/40/1/12

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aHe also created  a number of posters  on the same topic,  commissioned  for display in greengrocers’ shops around the same time he completed the cover of their Dominion Mark Fruit Book (1934). It seems that the posters were in conjunction with the NZ Herald, so they may have been given away in the newspapers of the period. (Wilson & Horton, New Zealand’s leading news and information company owned the NZ Herald –  and were one of Moran’s private clients).

Nabob Bombay chutney condiments Probably by Joseph Bruno  Moran alexander turnbull image and pictorial

Watercolour, pencil and pen rough for chutney label, circa 1920s. Alexander Turnbull Library Manuscripts and Pictorial collection, Reference Number: Eph-A-MORAN-07

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aJoseph Bruno Moran was born in 1874 at Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester, Lancashire to mechanical engineer James (1940-1900) and Eleanor Mary A. Moran nee Weightman (1852-). He was one of five children and the oldest. His siblings were James Aloysius (1876), Agnes (1879), Clara May E. (1884), and Eleanor Mary (1893). The family stayed in Stretford, residing at 18 Rose Street in the 1881 British census, and remained in the area well into the 1890s.

It was here  that he began in the field of textile design. By the time he was 17 years old, and living at 50 Combrook Road, Stretford with his parents and one brother, he is already a designer’s apprentice.  Given some of the gouache art samples I have seen produced by mills in the late nineteenth century his later skill with the brush in this medium for advertising makes sense – as his brilliance would stem from his training in this field.

Joseph Bruno Moran political cartoon

Political cartoon, pen and ink, likely for the Auckland Star, circa mid-late 1910s.  Credit: Auckland Art Gallery collection, Toi o Tāmaki, gift of Mrs K M Marsh, 1976,  Accession Number:1976/40/3/5

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In 1901 he is living at 31 Leaf Street, Chorlton-on-Medlock,  South Manchester, as a boarder. He lists his profession at the time as fabric and embroidery designer. As a result of the  Industrial Revolution, the population of Chorlton as well as many other areas of Manchester, quickly increased  “a hundred fold” and the town became filled with textile mills, and overcrowded, poor quality housing with  dismal  sanitation. Still, it meant plenty of work locally  for those of a creative disposition.

Kowhai Brand apricots Whoisit & Co fruit canners Auckland 1920s Joseph Bruno Moran

Watercolour, pencil and pen rough for canned fruit label, circa 1920s. Probably a sample for portfolio – I doubt “Whoisit & Co” really existed. Alexander Turnbull Library Manuscripts and Pictorial collection, Reference Number: Eph-B-MORAN-08

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He left the U.K. for New Zealand,  from the London port in 1912 and travelling to Auckland via Sydney, Australia. Why he decided to emigrate will probably remain a mystery. He had married Emma Barbara (nee Travers) in Chorlton in 1907. She was  a number of years younger than him,  being born 1885 in Prestwich, Lancashire.

Joseph Bruno  Moran Fruit 1920-30s not it says NZ Herald Ltd alexander turnbull image and pictorial

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Lithograph illustration commissioned by the NZ Herald newspaper c 1920s-1930s, Alexander Turnbull Library Manuscripts and Pictorial collection, Reference Number: Eph-D-MORAN-1920s-03

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 In 1911 he was working as a designer for calico prints, in South Machester. The couple were  living at 5 Baldock Road, Didsbury, South Manchester, with a baby daughter, Kathleen Marie Moran (1910-1986). Both Kathleen and her mother followed Joseph to Aotearoa one year later, leaving from London in 1913. There were three other children born in New Zealand of which both sons died in their twenties; James Rene (known as Jimmy, 1918-1944), Edward (Teddy, 1916-1937) and Annie Moran.

buy lemons and make lemonade joseph bruno moran

Poster for greengrocers commissioned by Dominion Mark, c 1920s-1930s, lithograph. Alexander Turnbull Library Manuscripts and Pictorial collection, Reference Number: Eph-D-MORAN-1920s.

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Upon his arrival he worked as a salesman for a couple of years. He was living in a building named “Kelvin”, in Reimers Ave, Mt Albert. Concurrently Emma Moran was either living separately in  Edendale Rd Kingsland, or the Kelvin address was a studio to build up freelance work (a more likely scenario, although why give it as a residential address and not ascribe his true profession). The other obvious possibility is that the couple were simply separated at the time.  He was employed by the Auckland Star newspaper as a commercial artist some time during or after 1914.  A few examples of his political cartoons in pen and ink, done for this paper survive, but whether he conceptualized them as well – we don’t know.

Maori wonder land Frank Duncan & Co Ltd c 1920 possibly designed by J B Moran add logo   copy copy

Maori Wonderland picture album, published by Frank Duncan & Co Ltd, c. 1920. Possibly the cover, as well as the company’s logo, were designed by Moran. Courtesy of Early Canterbury Photographers blog, canterburyphotography.blogspot.com

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In the mid-1910s he was working as an assistant lithograph artist, then there is an indication that he served briefly in the first world war,  as he is listed in the  New Zealand Army WWI Reserve Rolls of 1916-1917  – this may have been in the capacity of war artist.

EAT FRUIT by Joseph Bruno Moran 1920 copy

Poster for greengrocers commissioned by Dominion Mark, c 1920s-1930s, lithograph. Alexander Turnbull Library Manuscripts and Pictorial collection, Reference Number: Eph-D-MORAN-1920s-01.

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aIn 1919  he is again on record as working as salesman. The family are living at 102 Burnley Terrace, Mt Roskill. This same year he started his own business in the Palmerston Buildings opposite the Auckland Post Office, on the corner of Queen and Custom street (an Italiante office block from circa 1900 – demolished around 1970). His clients included: Bushell’s (tea, coffee), the Northern Roller Milling Co (flours and cereals), Harvey & Company, Clark & Matheson (mainly travel maps and posters), Smith & Caughey (department store on Queen Street which is still operating today), John Weeks Ltd,  Duncan & Co (postcards and other  tourist goods such as books and albums).

Troopship_ZTPAR_01 The Parting of the Ways Troopship Journal Digital image courtesy of Dunedin Public Libraries  by Abel Dyke Ltd poss J B Moran

“The Parting of the Ways”  Troopship Journal,  by Abel Dyke Ltd, published 1919. Digital image courtesy of Dunedin Public Libraries, Ref: Troopship_ZTPAR_01. I thought this may have been possibly designed by Moran, thus included it. However since writing this article some time back, a copy turned up at auction showing an advert on the back cover for Cailler’s chocolates designed by leading advertising agency Charles Haines. It doesn’t mean that Moran didn’t design the cover illustration; but seems unlikely now. 

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Also – Johnstons Ltd (tea, the warehouse was at 20 Customs Street East), Household Necessity Company (No Rubbing laundry help was one of their products ), Brett Printing and Publishing Company Ltd,  Roma Tea company (I have a lot of ads, it’s hard to say which if any are Moran’s, and Charles Haines Agency definitely still had Roma as a client in 1920).

William Bon Cretien Pears - Gravenstein

Crate label designs in Watercolour for Dominion Mark Fruit, N. Z. c1930s. Alexander Turnbull Library Manuscripts and Pictorial collection, Reference Numbers: Eph-B-MORAN-11 and Eph-C-THORP-01.

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In addition – Brown Barrett & Co (which I covered recently here),  Abel Dykes Ltd (printers, engravers, and bookbinders – their big business was stationery). In 1920 he designed an illuminated address from the Legion of Frontiersmen for the visit of the Prince of Wales which was  held at the Art Gallery in Manchester- going full circle.

Smith and Caughey Ltd 1926 Turnbill M & P Reference Number Eph-A-COSTUME-1926-01-cover

Fashion illustration, not confirmed as Moran’s work but does look like his style. Photo-lithograph, Alexander Turnbull Library Manuscripts and Pictorial collection, Reference Number: Eph-A-COSTUME-1926-01-cover.

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The fact that he was described as a “salesman” again when he was most likely running his own business as a  commercial artist makes me wonder whether the previous same description just after his arrival in the country was just a way of describing him as a freelancer. Although, again – why not just ascribe an accurate profession as done at all other times? It makes more logical  sense that it is an accurate description and during times of difficulty or urgency he did indeed take other work. How relative it was to advertising, I do not know.

In 1928 the family were living at 27 Mountain View Rd, Mt Roskill when they picked up and left for Wellington, where Joseph worked for the Bank’s Box Company briefly while they lived at 45 Karepa Street. Sometime between 1929 and early 1931 they returned to Auckland.  Apart from that work foray he resided the rest of his life in Auckland at 18 Reimers Avenue, Mount Albert. their unmarried daughters are registered as living with them; Kathleen in 1938, and Annie during 1946-1949.

Bushell's Tea - Old King Cole ad Joseph Bruno Moran

Bushell’s tea  poster, gouache, circa 1920s. Auckland Art Gallery collection, Toi o Tāmaki, gift of Mrs K M Marsh, 1976. Accession Number: 1976/40/1/1.

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The N.Z. Fruitgrowers’ Federation Ltd was also based in Wellington so they were obviously relative to his period  there (and likely explains why he didn’t choose to stay in Auckland and work for the Bank’s Box Company branch instead);  and it was around this time that Moran started to do his most well-remembered work for them. Most sources quote circa 1931-1935 for his fruit labels and posters but I’d take a quite educated guess they were done between 1928 and 1931.

ROMA JOHNSTONS ADS POSS MORAN  copy

I have dozens of ads that could possibly be by Moran. These are two examples of work that may possibly be his – as they were both clients at this time. Johnston’s teas,  Auckland Star ,  October 1922, and Roma tea,  Auckland Star, December 1925.  Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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aBy mid-1931 was employed as head of the Art Department at the NZ Herald in the commercial printing section; and there he stayed for over twenty years. He worked almost up until his death, finishing at the Herald just twelve weeks before he passed away.  He died in 1952  at 78 years old.

Johnston tea tin probably designed by Moran  copy

Johnston Ltd tea tin probably designed by Moran, circa 1920s.

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aFor someone who was precise enough never to fail in using their middle name, there is surprisingly little documented about his life and career.  I don’t really  know anything else about his background or persona, or expect to find anything more than I have – excepting that he and his wife bought land off a Denis Joseph Whelan  just a few years prior to his death in 1945. His wife died quite some time after him in 1970, at the ripe old age of  84 in Murrays Bay on the upper North Shore, and it was likely after this event that his daughter ( by now Kathleen Marsh-Wildgoose) thought about preserving his memory through his work.

DOMINION MARK FRUIT BOOK NZ 1934 artwork must be by Joseph Bruno Moran

The front and back cover of the Dominion Mark recipe book, published 1934. Undoubtedly Moran’s work. The cooking manual contained recipes for jams, preserves and instructions for bottling. 

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He was skilled in pen, watercolours and oils, a lithographic expert, and a magician in gouache. If  it was not for his daughter supplying some notes on his career  as well as a small collection of art and ephemera in the mid-1970s to the Auckland Art Gallery and Alexander Turnbull Library –  it is likely we would know nothing of Moran and his career today except for some odd  surviving examples of  incredible, but potentially anonymous  artwork.

Cox's orange- Washinton

Crate label design for Cox’s, for Dominion Mark Fruit, N. Z. c1930s,  Lithograph, Alexander Turnbull Library Manuscripts and Pictorial collection, Reference Numbers: Eph-C-THORP-02. Crate label for Dominion Mark Fruit, N. Z. c1930s, photo-lithograph. Auckland Art Gallery collection, Toi o Tāmaki, gift of Mrs K M Marsh, 1976. Accession Number: 1976/40/1/16. Both attributed to Moran.

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All content of Longwhitekid copyright Darian Zam © 2013. All rights reserved.

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Addendum mid-April 2013: Whilst scratching around in the process of  trying to find more information, I followed up a lead on property-seller Denis Joseph Whelan to see if there were any more clues on Moran. There weren’t that I could find – it seems Moran and his wife bought the property planning for retirement and that is where Emma Barbara Moran lived out her days. It revealed scant data associated to my story, however it took me on a little journey and I ended up connecting with a Whelan descendant who sent me via the USA some wonderful pictures of the Whelan/Robb  family taken in an Auckland studio, I’m speculating in the mid-late 1880s. 

Denis Joseph Whelan  (1869-1947)  likely immigrated to New Zealand in the 1880s , between 1881-1890, just  prior to UK passenger records being kept. The only Denis Whelan born 1869 shows up in the UK census as living in Gloucestershire in 1871,  then Essex in 1881 – yet born in South Australia.He is absent from the UK by 1891.  There is nothing to rule out he and his family  travelled back and forth. You would think that with a journey taking months on board, that anyone would be reluctant to re-live that experience more than once in a lifetime – however it happened more often than you would imagine.

 Whelan was a former blacksmith who had once owned a carriage builders Wharton & Whelan in Newton Rd on the corner of  Symonds Street, Auckland with Robert Sydney Wharton, in the early 1890s. They were “makers of waggons (sic), drays, carts, buggies, & vehicles of all descriptions ” . The partnership dissolved in 1894.  He went bankrupt in 1899, and was discharged from the bankruptcy in 1900.

He  married Sarah Ann Robb (born 1871)  in 1894 and they had several children: Joseph 1894, Lilian Maria 1896, Catherine Irene 1897, Muriel Constance 1899, Evelyn Aileen 1902, Albert James Roy 1903, Edward Leslie Raymond 1905.

The same year he sold land to the Morans, he also sold Hector Sutherland McKenzie and Edna Freer McKenzie some land he owned. He died just two years later. His wife had predeceased him in 1942. One can assume he was ill and needed the money to get by to the end.

The images below are of the Robb family; Denis Whelan’s in-laws James and Maria Robb, and possibly Sarah Ann Robb and/or her sisters Eliza Peel  Robb (born 1866) and Maria Jane Robb (born 1868). James and Maria Jane’s other children were James Robb 1869, Henry Robb 1875, William John Robb 1878, and Anna  Robb 1874 – who  died at 9 weeks old and is buried with her parents,  in the Symonds Street Cemetery in Auckland in the part on the corner of Karangahape Rd. Presumably if there were other offspring they entered the world before the family emigrated from Ireland and there were not  records. Little directly relevant to my topic but it was an interesting  side trip, anyway!

 

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Sarah Robb Denis Joseph Whelans wife and-or her sisters Eliza Peel  Robb (born 1866) and Maria Jane Robb (born 1868) EDIT SML

James and Maria Robb’s children  circa late 1880s; photographed in Auckland. Likely  Sarah Robb, Denis Joseph Whelan’s wife, and/or her sisters Eliza Peel  Robb (born 1866) and Maria Jane Robb (born 1868). Image courtesy of Jennie Shelley.

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WHARTON & WHELAN coachbuilders - Bay Of Plenty Times  18 February 1895 Page 1 copy

Advert for Whelan’s coach-building business from the Bay Of Plenty Times, 18 February 1895.

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Sarah Robb (wife of Denis Joseph Whelan) parents were James and Maria Jane Robb (d 1898) EDIT sml

James and Maria Robb, circa 1880s; Sarah Robb’s parents photographed in Auckland. Maria Jane Robb Sr. died in 1898 described as “settler”. I doubt the two pictures were done in the same studio of R H Bartlett who was working in an Auckland studio from 1866 to at least the early 1890s. Image courtesy of Jennie Shelley.

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Wharton & Whelan dissolution of partnership - Auckland Star  9 August 1894 Page 12 copy

Advert for  dissolution of Wharton and Whelan’s coach-building business partnership, from the Auckland Star,  9 August 1894.

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Addendum mid-Jan 2014: I’ve done a lot of updates to this story because of new information that has come in about Moran’s life both in England as well as in Auckland. It was a bit thin on the ground before; but I’ve filled in some of his movements, for instance – it was 1928 he moved to Wellington, not 1925 as other sources claim. Which means his stay in the capital city was fairly brief. Perhaps it was not a success. Thanks to descendant Barbara Sheridan for providing information on her ancestors which has helped give a better picture of Moran’s life and career. In addition, I’ve also run across some images lately that I suspect may be his work: 

Canterbury Souvenir Tourist Booklet -  South Canterbury Chamber of Commerce- 1926 edit

This souvenir tourist booklet published by the South Canterbury Chamber of Commerce in 1926, came up for sale on Trade Me just recently – and bidding was fierce for this gorgeous piece of artwork. I am very sure this is Moran’s work. Everything from the child’s face, to the fonts, to the colour palette is so typical of his style.

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Oak Tomato Soup - Thompson & Hills Ltd - 11 ozs can label - Owain Morris collection

A can label from Dunedin collector Owain Morris’s fantastic extensive collection of OAK memorabilia. You can just see the note in the bottom right corner that indicates it was designed and printed at the N.Z. Herald, aka Wilson and Horton or W&H for short. This was produced in the 1930s and would have been created under the direction of Moran who was in charge of the art department at that time. I can’t say for sure whether any of the labels from this period were actually designed by Moran himself. Generally the work on OAK labels is verging on primitive at worst, and at best it’s usually nowhere near the level of finesse usually attributed to Moran’s amazing lithographic skills.

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OVALTINE VINTAGE ADVERTISING POSTER - c 1920'S edit

This 1920s era lithographed poster for Ovaltine also came up at auction recently. It was a bit damaged but a lovely piece and I’ve never seen another like it. Cursory research turned up nothing similar done in Britain or elsewhere so it’s quite possible that it was a Kiwi-designed and produced item.  I am not completely sure it is Moran’s work –  but it does look strikingly similar to his style during his 1920s freelancing period. Another hint is the font. Moran’s hand-painted fonts were deceptively simple and yet upon examination are usually quietly flamboyant with all kids of kicks and curls in them. Yet they never looked particularly fussy. Over all it reminded me straight away of his “Eat More Fruit” poster (in article above).

DELICIOUS APPLES ADVERTISING BANNER for DOMINION MARK FRUIT, NZ Joseph Bruno Moran edit

This point of sale banner for a grocery/fruit shop wall came up for sale on Trade me a while back, pretty sure it was just after I had published this article. It started off with a rather nominal price and within a few days jumped to about 500% (I think they may have read my piece and realised what they had). As I recall it was about a metre in length, maybe a lot longer. Undoubtedly a Joseph Bruno Moran design for Dominion Mark – not even debatable. This would have been designed in the 1930s but may have been in print for a long time, perhaps even into the 1960s. They tended to run these for a really long time. I remember quite a few of the older health and fruit poster designs were still in print when I was young. And no false advertising – it’s true that delicious apples are delicious.

The Bugle Boy of Company F: Creamoata and Sergeant Dan

In Bluebird Foods Ltd, breakfast, Cereal, Champion Flour, Chandler & Co, Charlotte Lilian Lawlor, Cream O' Groats, Creamoata, Doctor's Cream O' Groats, Fleming & Co, Fleming & Gilkinson, Fleming and Company Limited, Fleming Gray and Company, Goodman Fielder, Milk Oaties, Nestlé, Northern Roller Mills (NRM), Oatie-Nuts, Sergeant Dan, Sergeant Dan's Stockfoods Ltd, Snowball Flour, Sweet Heart O' Wheat, Thistle Oatmeal, Thomas Fleming, Uncle Toby's on July 25, 2012 at 10.46

I purchased these scraps of a disintegrating Fleming & Co “Milk Oaties” box from one of my favourite dealers . He always comes with the most incredible stuff – I have no idea where he finds it (and I wouldn’t dare to ask). I have only seen one before in the last five years that I can recall – it was whole but faded. Any of the original Fleming boxes usually sell for a competitive price since the chances anyone would keep one for decades is highly unlikely – and means they are rare and desirable examples of early New Zealand packaging.
Anyway, nobody else looking at this would bother, but I could see the potential to patch it back together digitally and restore it and so it was won for a nominal price with no interest at all from other parties. According to my database this design was definitely in production between the years 1938 to 1941 – probably a little earlier, as well as later.

Thomas Fleming (1848-1930) is now considered the major pioneer of the milling industry in New Zealand. His parents arrived to New Zealand from Scotland in 1862 with several children and another on the way.
Although he initially had jobs in other fields, such as gardener and cowboy, – around 1870 whilst visiting his brother in Oamaru on the lower west coast of the South Island, he got a job harvesting, in the wheat industry in nearby Totara.

Late 1950s- early 1960s interpretation of Sergeant Dan from a Happy Families card game set issued by Four Square.  

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Quickly progressing to working in the company’s Kakanui Mill (another source says it was Maheno Valley flourmill, now a well-known heritage building standing as Clark’s Mill ), he had the foresight of great opportunity and had subsequently roped his brother in before the year was out to learn the milling trade with plans for great future success.
His vision was true – within three years he had been promoted to manager. In 1875 he left to manage another mill owned by a certain John Murdoch situated in Invercargill, and no more than a year later he found himself – with his new partners, the freshly formed Fleming Gray and Company – the owner of it. Not long passed before not only were they bringing some serious competition to the local industry – but they were also buying up smaller mills for their market share.

Advert from a Self Help Co-op cookbook 1939, showcasing the range of Fleming & Co products of that time.

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By 1879 they had purchased their first major mill which was to become the original landmark of the brand. Now known as the “Former Fleming & Co Flour Mill“- it is situated on the corner of Conon and Tyne Streets. His brother in law (Peter Lindsay Gilkison, 1846-1924)  joined him in 1882 to form Fleming & Gilkinson. When the mostly wooden structure burned down in 1889 it was rebuilt as a four story brick building with improved technology, such as its own electrical generator to run the more efficient new machinery – while their other major mills in Gore, Winton and Mataura kept up the production load until things were back in order. This building still stands today:

http://www.historic.org.nz/TheRegister/RegisterSearch/RegisterResults.aspx?RID=2463

Fleming & Co Creamoata Oat Mill in Gore, the Fletcher Trust Archive, 9204P-94.

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Like the story of many phenomenal industry successes, the entrepreneurial Fleming had a keen interest in innovative technology and marketing – and took many lengthy trips abroad to investigate these aspects. With the completely modernised plant the company was now producing the whitest, finest flour on the market – not mention the most. The combined wood of the building, the heat of the machinery and production as well as the flour dust were a combustible recipe for disaster but out of the flames was borne the cement of Fleming’s empire.
By this time, having wiped out all competition – they were the only operating flour mill in the area, having eventually bought out all the others, and shut down many of the smaller ones; and oat production was relegated to Gore where it remained hereon for well over the next century.
In 1902 Fleming bought out Gilkinson who went on to establish Southland Frozen Meat Company – and became Fleming and Company Limited. , consisting of himself, his son-in-law John Rennie, who in his own right was a serious player in the industry as manager of the local branch of the New Zealand Flour Millers’ Association; and also William Fleming, (1881-1927), one of his sons.

Fleming’s advertisement for the Thistle brand oat products, September 1936.

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In 1912 Fleming retired and sold his shares in the firm to his sons Andrew, William (and possibly another son Herbert) Fleming as well as partner and relative Rennie. Because the brand was by now a household name subsequent owners over time wisely kept the Fleming name.
However it’s the later, much-photographed lemon-coloured Creamoata Mill that gained iconic status with its mascot emblazoned on the side for all to see. Although the earliest parts of the Gore oat-focussed mill had their foundations in 1893, Fleming extensively rebuilt the newer building emblazoned with the Sergeant Dan character in 1919, probably in relation to their hugely successful new invention Creamoata being released the year previously, and the structure, now known as the “Creamoata Mill Complex”, still stands today with a Category I heritage listing.

http://www.historic.org.nz/TheRegister/RegisterSearch/RegisterResults.aspx?RID=7470&m=advanced

Fleming promotion included secreting illustrated, collectible recipe cards in the boxes of Milk Oaties and Sweet Heart O’ Wheat, 1933

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Creamoata was of course the most famous and successful of all their products, and seems to make its first appearance 1909 – it was a finely ground rolled oats product which produced a creamier variety of porridge – an instant hit for the morning meal. It was supposedly considered the “national breakfast” as claimed on their packaging for decades (debatable – many may say that title is owned by Weet-Bix which was around in Aotearoa almost as long) however over the years Fleming produced and marketed many brands including self-named Fleming wholemeal and white flours, Thistle brand rolled Oats and Oatmeal, Breakfast foods and cereals such as Cream O’ Groats, Milk Oaties, Oatie-Nuts and Sweet Heart O’ Wheat (a semolina product also popular for desserts), and the Snowball brand wheatmeal and white flours. Doctor’s Cream O’ Groats was another that was likely a short-lived product of the 1940s.

Creamoata advertisement, Evening Post, March 1933

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The origin of Sergeant Dan is apparently well documented. By the early 1900s New Zealand writer Charlotte Lilian Lawlor was working in advertising copy and design. It wasn’t until around 1913 when she moved to Auckland to work for agency Chandler & Co, that she was eventually in a position to be handed the Fleming & Co Creamoata account – and seemingly in the very early 1920s came up with the idea of the little character to bolster sales of the product. However  as early as 1915 he appears in a newspaper advertisement with one of his signature chirpy poems, so from then on the boy soldier with a big appetite for porridge became the mascot, and was plastered on various merchandise from board games to bowls – of which there is a series of him participating in different types of sports – now highly collectable and the rarer ones going for quite high prices amongst collectors:
“Breakfast tables throughout the nation were presided over by Sergeant Dan, the Creamoata Man. With his digger’s hat, he was the picture of what a plate of porridge could do for a kid. And when you got to the bottom, if you had one of the special plates, there was Dan himself, grinning all over.”

Front of a Creamoata box circa 1950s with the more human version of Sergeant Dan as a boy scout.

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According to the Historic Places Trust, Sergeant Dan is “as well-known an image in popular culture as Buzzy Bee or an Edmonds Baking Powder tin”. I don’t know if that is true. I don’t recall him at all to be honest – and he may possibly be up there in Kiwiana Icons for Baby Boomers but I doubt that generally he would rank into the top ten amongst thongs, pavlovas, fern leaves and the odd brand name food items that would make it in like Tip-Top, for example. However Creamoata per se was well enough known that it was issued as an eighty cent stamp by NZ Post within their “Millenium Series” under a sub-category of six “Food Nostalgia” designs.

The Creamoata  Mill Complex today is owned by a new company making stockfoods under the Sergeant Dan mascot.

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The last Fleming family members disposed of their interests in the company in 1953 and the business was sold to Northern Roller Mills (NRM) which later became part of Champion, another older mill company going back to at least the 1890s which had become a subsidiary of Wattie’s.

An early version of Sergeant Dan, probably in the 1920s not long after Charlotte Lilian Lawlor created him. 

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I certainly remember Fleming products in the kitchen cupboards at home into at least the late 1970s for morning porridge; in particular packets of Thistle rolled oats – with a Highlander emblazoned on it – I think it was a blue, green, pink and white print on clear cellophane wrapper.

An Australian version of Creamoata signage. Apparently this one in Carlton, Melbourne was painted owner by the new owners of the building not long after this photo was taken.

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Production was shifted overseas under the Uncle Toby’s brand when Goodman Fielder stepped into the picture and took over from Nestlé in 2006 – up until this time the products had continued to be manufactured domestically in Gore. In late 2008 they confirmed that Creamoata was going to be off the shelves by early 2009 when stock ran down.

Fleming’s “Stirring Times” recipe booklet, 1927. Alexander Turnbull Library collection, B-K 879.

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The only remnants of the Fleming brand remaining today, besides the mill buildings, is a line of health snack bars under the name which have been marketed since the 1980s – and at this time under the auspices of the Bluebird company.

The tennis version of another well-known Creamoata promotional  campaign – there were several Sergeant Dan sports activity plates to collect.

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”“Now he is a full grown man, But there’s still a Sergeant Dan!
Just like Dan in years gone by – Quick of wit, alert and spry!
“I advise,” he loves to say, “Some Cweamoata every day!

 Creamoata  advertisement, probably circa early 1960s, shows Sergeant Dan has disappeared. Ref Eph-C-THORP-03, Alexander Turnbull Library collection.

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I’m not sure what era this jingle was from – but the indication of “growing up” probably interprets the period when Sergeant Dan morphed into a more adult, realistic boy scout in the fifties and, then slipped off the packages for good probably sometime by the mid 1960s to be relegated to history. Not entirely though – Sergeant Dan’s Stockfoods Ltd now occupies the later factory and make horse and calf food under the branding of the character.

Creamoata eighty cent stamp by NZ Post within their “Millenium Series ” under a sub-category of six “Food Nostalgia” designs, issued in 1999.

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